Emergency rooms and urgent care centers both treat many of the same injuries and illnesses, but when it comes to non-life-threatening health problems, urgent care is often a better option. Knowing when to go to urgent care and when your medical problem requires emergency services can save you time and money and offer a range of benefits.
Curious about the differences between urgent care and emergency care? At WestMed Family Healthcare, we have you covered.
Overview of emergency room care
When you experience a health concern that can’t wait for several days or a week until you see your primary care doctor, heading to your local emergency room may instinctively seem like the best choice.
Emergency rooms treat severe, life-threatening health problems and are staffed for round-the-clock care seven days a week. An ER is part of a hospital equipped to receive walk-in patients, as well as patients arriving by ambulance.
It’s best to visit an ER for life-threatening conditions where there is an immediate danger of loss of life. As part of hospitals, ERs have extensive medical equipment, doctors, surgeons, nurses, and specialists ready to diagnose and treat life-threatening conditions.
There is often a long wait time to receive care at an ER if you’re aren’t experiencing a life-threatening condition. A triage system is in place to ensure that the most severely injured or ill patients are prioritized. This may mean hours of waiting if you aren’t too ill.
Even after you see a doctor, you can spend a long time waiting for tests and even more time if your visit requires a consultation with a specialist.
Urgent care 101
It may not cross your mind to visit urgent care when you’re ill or injured, but these treatment centers are staffed with doctors and nurses and are open later than primary care offices. Urgent care centers operate separately from hospitals and receive walk-in patients. At WestMed Family Healthcare, we offer urgent care, as well as primary care services.
While urgent care centers aren’t necessarily open 24/7 like an emergency room, they’re often open later than your regular doctor’s office.
Urgent care centers have the equipment to diagnose less severe illnesses and injuries. The wait is much shorter than you would experience at an ER, typically an hour or less. Here are some of the main benefits of visiting urgent care:
- More affordable
- Extended hours
- Shorter wait time
When to visit an ER
Visit an ER when you or a loved one experiences a life-threatening condition. Some examples include:
- Signs of a stroke
- Signs of a heart attack
- A severe allergic reaction
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe abdominal pain
- Severe burns
- Spinal injuries
- Loss of a limb
- Sudden vision loss
- Difficulty breathing
When to visit urgent care
Visit urgent care when you have a non-life-threatening condition and are unable to get a same-day appointment with your primary care doctor. Below are some conditions that can be treated at urgent care:
- Mild burns
- Back pain
- Cuts and scrapes
- Sore throat
What if you’re unsure?
If you decide to go to urgent care and the staff determines that you need a higher level of care, they will refer you to an emergency room. When you are unsure of the cause of your symptoms, such as chest pain, which could be heartburn instead of a heart attack, it’s better to be safe and seek treatment at an ER.
Use your best judgment when you experience acute illness or injury. If your condition is mild and not life-threatening, urgent care is usually a better choice. When your illness or injury is life-threatening, immediate care at an emergency room is best.
At WestMed Family Healthcare, we offer same-day urgent care appointments for the entire family. For top-quality urgent care, call our Westminster, Colorado, office. For less urgent visits, use our online system to request an appointment.